Wednesday, October 09, 2019

Wolf Lowry (2019 preservation by Library of Congress)

Wolf Lowry (US 1917) by William S. Hart. The cancelled wedding. "You're a better man than I", to quote The Yardbirds. At the last minute, Wolf Lowry (WSH) lets Mary Davis (Margery Wilson) be wed with her true love Owen Thorpe (Carl Ullman). Photo: Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences – Margaret Herrick Library, Los Angeles

Varg-Tropper / I lupi del West.
US 1917.
regia/dir: William S. Hart.
scen: Lambert Hillyer, da/from “The Rancher” di/by Charles Turner Dazey.
photog: Joe August.
scg/des: Robert Brunton.
asst dir: Cliff Smith.
cast: William S. Hart (Tom “Wolf” Lowry), Margery Wilson (Mary Davis), Aaron Edwards (Buck Fanning), Carl Ullman (Owen Thorpe).
prod: Triangle/Kay-Bee, supv: Thomas H. Ince.
dist: Triangle.
uscita/rel: 27.5.1917, orig. l: 5 rl.
copia/copy: DCP, 51’39”; did./titles: ENG.
fonte/source: Library of Congress Packard Center for Audio-Visual Conservation, Culpeper, VA.
    Le Giornate del Cinema Muto (GCM), Pordenone.
    William S. Hart.
    Grand piano: Neil Brand.
    Teatro Verdi, e-subtitles in Italian by Underlight, 9 Oct 2019.

Richard Koszarski (GCM): "Critics and audiences regarded Wolf Lowry as a quintessential William S. Hart film, Exhibitor’s Trade Review citing “Exciting gun play, love interest, the sweep of the great out-of-doors country and the spirit of self-sacrifice exemplified in the central character,” as the recognizable hallmarks of any Hart picture. But while formulaic, Hart’s films were primarily star vehicles in which such familiar generic elements were always subservient to the actor’s carefully developed screen persona. Hart’s first film role was in the atypical His Hour of Manhood (1914), playing a complete rotter, a bad bad man. But in his very next appearance, in Jim Cameron’s Wife, Hart was already a wild man of the west sacrificing himself for a woman of ideal virtue, having created the prototype of a character that would not only make his fortune, but give new life to an entire genre."

"How wild this character might actually be, and how great his sacrifice, was the one big question that Hart and his writers would investigate for the next decade. Dramatically, Hart’s characters are always crossing the line between lawlessness and civilization. Sometimes he starts out on the wrong side of the line, a gambler or a thief, but is tamed by circumstance (or the presence of an inspiring female). Or he may begin as an honest man, drawn to the dark side by different circumstance (and different women). He seldom remains in the same spot, morally or ethically, for an entire picture, and even his most positive characters are sometimes shamed by the vigilante justice they are driven to."

"In order to give weight to these inner conflicts, Hart typically presents himself as a loner, a man with no one to answer to, but also no one with whom he can share life’s burdens. If playing a poor man, he is at least his own boss, a prospector, a trapper or a scout calling his own shots. But not a cowboy, because Hart saw little dramatic interest in the lives of these itinerant farmhands; if cattle are present he probably owns the ranch (as in Wolf Lowry). Even in Pinto Ben, the closest he ever came to a traditional cowboy role, he is the boss wrangler, leader of the cattle drive. Cowboy roles he left to Tom Mix and Broncho Billy Anderson. Once a barnstorming Shakespearean actor, Hart clearly believed that great inner struggles could not be dramatized by examining the lives of the average and ordinary. So he would often cast himself as a leader of men — but a leader whose best qualities, like strength, courage and resolve, may no longer be unalloyed virtues."

"In Wolf Lowry he is a cattle baron whose idea of a good time is running off anyone who dares trespass on his domain. The film presents this as understandable tough-guy behavior that has gone over the line, and will require a bit of civilizing. Note how this scene is juxtaposed with one in which his cowboys move from traditional male joshing (an unusual amount of cowboy comedy here) to a mock lynching of their own Chinese cook. There is something wrong with all this testosterone-driven behavior that could do with some feminine influence. Margery Wilson would seem to be the candidate here, and critics of the day were charmed by Hart’s “bashful lover” routine and the taming of his “cave man” persona. But this is one of those self-sacrificing films, a category in which the Hart character either dies, doesn’t get the girl, and/or wanders into the wilderness alone, leaving civilization to the more civilized (and domestic) characters. In fact, this romantic attraction seems somehow a part of the cattle king’s general property interests, his policing of a squatter’s cabin soon transformed into the stalking of its latest inhabitant (he begins hanging around at night, observing Margery Wilson’s shadow on the window shade). When he does realize the girl is lost to him, he abandons all the rest of his property, too."

"The copy recently preserved by the Library of Congress is based on a 28 mm version licensed to Pathescope by S. A. Lynch, who had acquired control of Triangle in June 1917, just after Wolf Lowry went into release. The following year the film was one of 16 Hart pictures reissued by S. A. Lynch Enterprises, which produced new advertising material eliminating the names of both Triangle and Thomas H. Ince. Lynch had the film’s main title card reshot and excised the card with Ince’s supervisory credit. But that card also contained other credits, including those of the director (William S. Hart) and the cameraman (Joe August). Instead of remaking that card with the proper information, someone simply spliced in footage of a card made up for a different film, with different names credited. Audiences looking at the Lynch version — in either 35 or 28 mm, I would assume — were told, incorrectly, that the film was directed by Walter Edwards and photographed by Robert Newland (the credit to “Chas. Oldman” is also in error)."

"But it doesn’t stop there. The Lynch version ends with Hart on a hilltop, looking down sadly at the wedding ceremony that is now going on without him. But reviews of the 1917 release had it differently, and described an additional sequence taking place years later. Fortunately, a 35 mm fragment of this version also found in the Library of Congress did contain that ending, which has now been included in the restoration. What other alterations Lynch may have made in the film (or any of the other Hart films he reissued) still require further research." Richard Koszarski (GCM)

AA: In this film William S. Hart is the monster, a character that can be compared with Ivan the Terrible, Wolf Larsen, and the tyrants that populated Weimar cinema. He belongs also to the great terrible cattle barons to be compared with John Wayne's Thomas Dunson in Red River. He reminds us also of another version of "my grandfather's story" in the Howard Hawks oeuvre, Edward Arnold as Barney Glasgow in Come and Get It. Wolf Lowry is a brutal saga of the original accumulation.

We see views of epic cattle drives and understand that might is right for Wolf Lowry who can evict little homesteaders ruthlessly when he needs to expand.

Wolf Lowry is a study of der Übermensch and the alpha male, literally, as a leader of a wolf pack. It is also a saga of brutalization, a loss of humanity.

When the old-timer bullied into leaving his place manages to find a real estate agent, Buck Fanning (Aaron Edwards) who sells his property to a woman about to be united with her fiancé, Wolf Lowry is startled to meet Mary Davis (Margery Wilson) in the old-timer's cabin.

The conversion of the William S. Hart character is more abrupt and extreme than usual. He protects Mary from the harassment of Buck Fanning but is badly wounded himself and nursed back to health by Mary. "I'm sorry to get well". The tough brute cries. "There wasn't a touch of good in me before I met you". Mary is losing hope of ever meeting again her fiancé Owen Thorpe (Carl Ullman) but when he finally reappears, Mary lies to Lowry that Owen is her half-brother.

A wedding between Mary and Lowry is imminent, but Mary gets depressed, and the truth is revealed. The beast is unleashed, and Wolf Lowry's fit of rage is fearsome. But his wedding is cancelled and theirs is announced. Lowry cries, gives up everything and retreats to his gold claims in Alaska after "a silent farewell to all he has on Earth". His face is convulsed in pain and his invincible posture is stooped when he disappears in the darkness. In final shots we see Mary with a baby and Lowry in solitude in freezing cold Alaska, wrapped in wolf furs, weeping.

The approach is mythical. In William S. Hart's world the woman incarnates the life force and the man the death drive.

The mythical current and the extraordinary fits of rage are reminiscent of Jean Gabin's films of the 1930s.*

This 2019 preservation from 28 mm sources conveys the visual force of one of William S. Hart's key films. Simulations of sepia and dark red tintings are included.


AA Facebook capsule:

William S. Hart is at his most mythical in Wolf Lowry in which he portrays a monstrous cattle baron. His character can be compared with John Wayne's Tom Dunson in Red River.

* André Bazin wrote in his essay on Jean Gabin's destiny:

“Before the war, it is said, Gabin insisted before signing any film contract that the story include one of those explosive scenes of anger at which he excels.”

“Was this the whim of a star, was it the ham clinging to his little touch of bravura? Perhaps, but he probably felt, through his actor's vanity, that to deprive himself of it would betray his character. Indeed it is almost always in a moment of rage that Gabin brings misfortune on himself, baiting the fateful trap that will inevitably cause his death.“

“Besides, in the tragedies and epics of ancient times anger was not just a psychological state amenable to treatment by a cold shower or a Gardenal pill; it was a state of unconsciousness, a trance, a divine possession, a cleft opened for gods into the world of humanity, through which destiny steals.”

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